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Get fit and save energy by cycling

June 22, 2008
By Bonnie S. Peck, For The Leader-Herald
As gasoline prices have topped $4 per gallon; a lot of people have been looking for alternative ways to get around that will save them the pain at the pump.

At the same time, health issues and obesity have been in the headlines as well.

Bicycling is a sport that can help you improve your fitness while you enjoy the freedom of the open road or trail.

So why not try this great form of exercise that is fueled by human energy rather than fossil fuel?

Bicycling has long been recognized as one of the best forms of aerobic exercise, and it is fun.

Almost anyone of any age can take up bicycling for fitness. One should start slowly and work up to increasingly demanding levels as fitness develops.

The following tips will help you get started on a bicycling-for-fitness program:

• If you’ve been a couch potato for a long time (especially if you are more than 35), most experts recommend checking with your doctor before beginning a fitness program.

• Start by riding every other day, gradually increasing to five or six days a week.

Try to ride two to five miles per day, gradually increasing your mileage as your conditioning allows.

Regular exercise is the key, but allow some time for your body to rest, too.

• Work to develop a good pedal stroke. The number of times you turn the pedal per minute (your cadence) should be between 70 and 90. Shift your gears so you can maintain this cadence.

• Start out fairly slowly each time you ride, and build up speed as you go.

This “warms up” your muscles and helps reduce soreness. Stretching before you start can help avoid muscle pulls.

Near the end of your ride, ease off the cycle more gently for five or 10 minutes to cool down. When you get off the bike, walk around and stretch a bit to help relax your muscles.

• To properly fuel the real cycling machine — you — eat a balanced diet, with emphasis on complex carbohydrates: fruit, bread, cereals, rice, potatoes and pasta.

Don’t forget fresh vegetables, lean meat, fish, beans and low-fat dairy products. Keep fats, sugar, and salt to a minimum.

Hilly terrain shouldn’t be a deterrent to bicyclists. With the development of multi-speed bikes, cyclists can make short work of hills. Pedaling in a gear that is “too hard,” however, is a mistake too often made by cyclists.

It is better for your knees, lungs, and circulation as well as for muscle development to use low gears.

Select the lowest gear that your feet can spin smoothly while maintaining pressure on your pedals.

Most newer bikes come with a triple crank, affectionately referred to as a “granny gear” which provides the cyclist with a set of exceptionally low gears.

Take advantage of it.

The bicycle seat is adjustable and should be positioned so that your leg is nearly straight when at the bottom of the pedal revolution.

Many cyclists tend to have their seat positioned too low, resulting I an inefficient pedaling situation, and strain on the muscles.

Toe clips and straps add a great deal to your pedaling efficiency.

They also prevent your feet from slipping when accelerating. When riding in the city, keep the straps loose.

Don’t use them if you have trouble getting your feet in and out of them.

The most important piece of gear for a cyclist is a bicycle helmet.

Nobody expects to crash with a bicycle, but in time you will. When you do, you must have head protection.

Approximately 85 percent of all serious bicycle injuries are head injuries. Road rash and broken bones heal; scrambled brains may not.

Wearing a bike helmet is common sense.

Don’t forget eye protection. Sunglasses do more than block damaging sun rays.

They can also protect your eyes from bugs or gravel that may fly from passing cars or cyclists.

Variable weather poses a challenge to the cyclist.

Dress with layers so you can peel off or put on what is needed.

Don’t overdress.

You’ll work up a lot of heat riding.

It’s important not to sweat in heavy clothes and then get chilled later. Wool and polypropylene are best in cold weather.

Wind breakers tend to hold in moisture that will cause a chill. Wear clothing that will breathe.

Drink lots of water before, during and after your workout. On a hot day, you can sweat a couple of quarts per hour or more.

Headaches, fatigue and light-headedness are signs of dehydration and an indication that you need to drink more water. It’s important for mental and physical performance as well as recovery that your body remain hydrated.

Keep your body loose and relaxed.

Let your arms and knees absorb the bumps rather than your head and neck.

If you find yourself heading for a fallen branch or pothole that you can’t avoid, stay loose, rise slightly out of the saddle, and hold the handlebars firmly.

Fast pedaling in low gears helps maintain balance.

Lastly, cyclists are reminded that they have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Follow the traffic laws and be considerate of others.

Practice sharing the road and help make it an enjoyable place to cycle.

Courtesy is contagious.

Besides being fun and practical, bicycling is an exercise you can continue for a lifetime.


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